They’ve been adequately hyped and they certainly did husk some Huskers.
Now BYU receivers are again in the thick of tall things.
They must deliver big against a tough No. 20-ranked Boise State squad Saturday while breaking in freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum in his starting debut.
Mitch Mathews’ miraculous catch against Nebraska last Saturday aside, today’s reality is Mathews and other members of BYU’s receiving corps have to do it all again. And again, and then again.
“We are tall guys who want to win,” Mathews told reporters this week. “We just go up and get jump balls.”
Mangum is going to need every inch of the reach by Cougar receivers as he faces a quick and steep learning curve as a rookie BYU QB facing a tough September schedule.
His receiving corps can be a lifeline. Check that — they have to be a lifeline.
Mathews is 6-foot-6, and so is Nick Kurtz. That’s basketball-forward size. Add in 6-5 Terenn Houk and 6-4 freshman Moroni Laulu-Pututau and the group could be labeled The Skyline.
In the opener in Lincoln, nine BYU players caught passes, led by Kurtz (five for 123) and Devon Blackmon (five for 43). Mitchell Juergens and Houk had four catches apiece. Mathews and Colby Pearson each had three.
This group was impressive right out of the chute. BYU will need it to be Saturday and this fact is not lost on a few of those who’ve worn BYU blue and understand the nuances of their beloved game.
“I think anytime you look out as a quarterback and see guys who are 6-5 and 6-6 going out on a route, it makes you feel good,” said Robbie Bosco, an associate athletic director at BYU who led BYU to a perfect season 31 years ago.
“To have that kind of a nice tall target becomes more important in certain situations like being down near the goal line, especially when you are throwing up a jump ball. But what you like most as a quarterback is receivers who run crisp routes and I’ve been able to see this group does that. To run great routes and have length is a bonus in a receiver.”
Bosco said any time a team loses a key player to a major injury, everyone on a team must step up. “The receivers (at Nebraska) played so well and things looked smooth and Tanner looked great, but there will be more times he is going to struggle. It will be imperative for his receivers to step up and make plays that are not normally made. When the ball is thrown, they have to make the play and help the QB out. When coaching and playing, we always talked about that — making tough plays and not dropping passes.”
This kind of play was evident in Memorial Stadium, not just with Mathews’ miracle catch at the end, but a key fourth-and-1 catch by Kurtz on a pressured throw by Mangum in the fourth quarter. It was the series before the dramatic game-winning drive. It was a pass play good for 38 yards and Kurtz used his superior height to haul it in. He was closely covered by Daniel Davie, a smaller corner. Kurtz’s catch kept a nine-play, 71-yard BYU drive alive and led to a BYU field goal with just under 8 minutes to play in the game.
John Beck, a former NFL quarterback now in the CFL, was impressed with how Mathews and Kurtz use their obvious height advantage. Bosco’s backup in 1984 now television analyst Blaine Fowler sat in Memorial Stadium last Saturday and in his opinion BYU’s offense with Hill looked in midseason form. That was with Hill at the helm.
Mangum’s job now is to replicate that form in his first week with a weight on his shoulders. It does help immensely that he has tall receivers and others to throw to.
“The size creates mismatches and gives the opportunity for large catch radius,” said Beck. “This gives the QB a place to go against man coverage. They don’t always have to be winning for the QB to give them a chance because they can make a play while covered. It looks like they had really good timing with Taysom. I thought the passing game was working really well. They must have put in a lot of work in the offseason.”
Tyler Anderson, a speed receiver for BYU in the 90s, is now coaching at Orem High School. “I am impressed with the size and playmaking ability of the receivers this year,” said Anderson. “They had a great first game. I hope it continues for the rest of the season. They will have to continue to make plays especially now with a young quarterback starting.”
Eric Drage (1990-93), who played with Ty Detmer and caught passes that added up to 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns used the word “awesome” to describe what he’s seen so far out of BYU's tall towers and their catching mates.
“I’ll tell you what, obviously the size jumps out at you right away,” said Drage. “Watching them on TV you don’t get to see their routes but they seem to get open. I really like Nick Kurtz. He attacks the ball and he had that amazing catch down the side that looked to be a big play.
“I like them all because they seem to attack the ball. I don’t know anything about their speed or anything like that, but man, they are impressive. Mitch Juergens is a little guy but I like him, he kind of reminds me a little bit of myself. I’d want to get those guys the ball.”
In Bosco’s day, his receivers didn’t have height but they were aggressive, just like Drage and Austin Collie. Time and time again Bosco had Glen Kozlowski literally fighting to haul in a pass and his attack mentality made all the difference.
“I think our guys were average height, but they were very good athletes and went up and got the ball," Bosco said. "It didn’t matter where it was, they made the best effort and most of the time they got the ball. It helped the confidence because there were many times I threw some balls that were like ‘Oh, my goodness that was a bad throw,’ and they’d come up with it. It was huge. Receivers are a big part of the game and without them making big plays and yards after the catch, it can prove costly to an offense and quarterback.”
Mathews recognizes that the drama of being part of a nationally recognized Hail Mary TD play has its place: Last week.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster but a situation where you can’t be prideful. You try to make a play for your teammates, family, fans and friends. You can’t beat your chest too much over it. It was more emotional and humbling than prideful,” Mathews said of his weekend in Lincoln.
“Good teams will take that event and use it as momentum for the next game,” Mathews said. “To hang our hats on one moment could ruin that moment if you don’t win games and (then) have a mediocre season.”
Vertical jump, elevated apex during a leap, extended target radius, confidence, athleticism, timing and sticky hands are a few traits Mangum will need in force from his receivers in the coming weeks.
He’s lucky this was a strength of his team last spring before he arrived, and it remains so in September.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.